Papers of George William Clarke

Scope and Content

The collection includes: published material (a book and pamphlets); diaries; and cuttings related to the Clarke family.

Administrative / Biographical History

George William Clarke, China Inland Mission missionary to China, was born on May 30 1849 in Shoreditch, East London, United Kingdom. One of five children he began working full-time in a factory when he was nine years old. In his teens he attended a night school run by Annie Macpherson, the promoter of child migration to Canada. It was at one of her Sunday schools that he became a committed Christian and, at the age of fourteen, he became her full-time assistant. When he was twenty-three he took charge of the first party of Macpherson boys being sent to Canada. He had jobs there as a lumberjack and an engine driver as well as studying at college.

In August 1875, Clarke responded to Hudson Taylor's call for a group of eighteen men to join the China Inland Mission (CIM) with the aim of entering the nine unevangelised provinces of inland China. During his first term in China he travelled over 20,000 miles through twelve provinces, concentrating in the first years on Hunan, Guizhou and Sichuan. In 1879, in Shanghai, he married Fanny Rossier (also referred to as Marta), a Swiss missionary. Their base was to be Guiyang, capital of Guizhou, which they reached in 1880, Fanny being the first female missionary to have penetrated that far west. They lost a son at the end of that year and in May 1881 moved farther west into Yunnan, the first Protestant missionaries to work in that province. The work was isolated and difficult with very little progress. A son, Samuel, was born in 1883 but Fanny Clarke never recovered from the birth and died before the end of the year.

Having no-one to assist with raising his son, Clarke left Yunnan in April 1884 and spent the rest of his life working in north-east China. In 1886 he married Agnes Lancaster, who had gone to China in 1880 and had worked in Taiyuan in the province of Shanxi. After their marriage the Clarkes were based at Guihuacheng in north Shanxi.

In 1888 they returned home on furlough then in 1889 went to Tianjin where Clarke was mission secretary. They had a son (John) but Agnes Clarke died in 1892 after giving birth to a daughter (also Agnes). Clarke died in Shandong province in 1919 and was buried in the British cemetery at Tianjin.

Despite his lack of formal education, Clarke had become a fluent Chinese speaker, kept accurate diaries, wrote a book on some of the provinces he worked in and translated an ancient Chinese classic which was later donated to the British Museum. His daughter, Agnes, was a CIM missionary for forty-six years and worked in east Sichuan before retiring to the CIM home for retired members in Kent.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers. It is essential to arrange an appointment in advance to view the archive in order that someone can be available to help. Please contact us by email at Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to the Centre by Agnes Clarke, daughter of George William Clarke, in 1969.

Other Finding Aids

A paper catalogue is available to researchers at the Centre.

Archivist's Note

Description originally written and researched by Caroline Brown in June 2001. This had been added to Archives Hub in August 2012 by Louise Williams.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of materials (for example by digital camera) is free for private research and educational use, although we ask researchers to sign an agreement. Please contact us for enquiries on using the material in a commercial setting, for which there will be a fee. Contact us by email at Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX.


No further additions to the collection are expected.

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Geographical Names